Category Archives: Training

How to Scan Film Negatives for Creating Digital Negatives

[flickr float="left"][/flickr]Before we get into scanning your film negative you should think about creating the best possible image for your print.  Keep in mind that you could use a digital RAW file for the digital negative process as well, but that is a different method and approach that I will not be covering in this article.

Composing and exposing a technically correct image is the foundation for a good print independent of your printing method so make sure you make this your first priority.  Since we are creating digital negatives from your scanned film, the first rule is to always work in 16-bit mode. This means you should work in 16-bit mode from capture to print. Even if you don’t know what that means just know to work in 16-bit vs. 8-bit mode.  You will get the best possible image because you won’t be clipping your tonal values (highlights or shadows).

If you are using a digital camera then make sure you capture in RAW mode.  If you can’t capture in RAW mode in your camera, then use a different camera.

You will need to convert your scanned TIFF image to black and white if you are using a color negative.  In Photoshop CS5 and beyond there is a black and white conversion tool that you should use.  Don’t just desaturate your color image to make it monochrome because that is the worst possible scenario form a quality perspective.  You lose all the luminosity in your image.  If you are using a black and white negative, then no worries.

If you are a traditional film photographer there are clear advantages to scanning in your negatives and in particular your large format sheet film negatives.  I personally use 4×5, 5×7 and 8×10 large format view cameras and I have found that I use my 4×5 camera the majority of the time if I know ahead of time that I will be creating large digital negatives for my printing process.  One of the biggest advantages of a large format camera for me personally is the ability to control the film plane movements.  Next, I prefer the ability to study and view the scene on the large ground glass and the shadow detail and tonal gradation that I am able to achieve with film is unparalleled at this time.  Another key reason for my choice of film is I prefer the look of my prints when captured with film versus digital.  The 4×5 camera is small, lightweight and gives me all of the advantages of large format photography.  In the cases where I know I will be scanning my negatives anyway, the 4×5 field camera is an easy choice.  I have a small field camera that weighs less than most modern professional DSLR bodies by a couple pounds or more.

In regards to cost versus quality a person could purchase a complete 4×5 large format camera system and many years worth of film as well as a high end professional flatbed scanner such as the Epson V750 and still have many thousands of dollars to spare in addition to ending up with a system that produces superior images for black and white fine art prints in my opinion.  A huge benefit in my mind is that your large format camera system will last your lifetime and will never need to be updated ever again.  I also believe film is by far the most archival and easily retrievable medium photography has ever invented.  If large format wasn’t an option for you then you could buy a medium format camera and standard lens for pennies on the dollar of its original cost and end up with a camera and tool that will last you a lifetime.  These are just my opinions and I am sure I could find people using a DSLR to make digital negatives that create beautiful prints.  That approach isn’t for me, but I don’t claim my process is superior to anything else.  It is just simply how I prefer to work and fits into my creative vision.

Scanning Film for Digital Negatives

If you are going to scan your large or medium format film to make digital negatives then you should do the following:

  • Pre-scan the negative then turn off every automatic option possible.  This means no sharpening, automatic setting of black and white points, contrast, etc.
  • Set the scanner to 16-bit and DO NOT use 16-bit HDR mode.
  • You want to use the highest native resolution possible for your scanner.  I have found for the Epson V750 it is 2400 dpi.
  • Open the histogram in your scanning software and manually set the black and white points so they are included and leave the middle slider along and on 0.
  • Scan and save the image to a 16-bit TIFF file.

Basic Edits for Scanned Images

Open the 16-bit TIFF file in Photoshop and consider the following basic edits as a starting place.

Create a new Levels adjustment layer and call it B&W Points.  Simply set your black and white points so no clipping occurs in your image as you did in the scanner, but you will want to move the black point just a few pixels to the right and the white pixels just a few to the left.

Create another new Levels adjustment layer and call it “Brightness”.  You will now adjust the center slider to adjust the overall brightness to your liking.  Technically you could do this on the first Levels adjustment layer, so that is up to you if you want to split it out or not.

Create a new Curves adjustment layer and call it “Contrast”.  You will want to click on the curve and create three points for shadows, midtones and highlights.  First, click towards the bottom third of the line to set a shadow point.  Drag that down a little bit to decrease the contrast in your shadows.  Second click towards the top one-third of the curve and drag it up a little bit.  Third, place a point near the middle and drag it down a little bit to produce the S-curve shape.


I hope this information is helpful in getting you pointed in the right direction for your digital negatives.  After exposing and developing your film and now scanning it, you are well on your way to preparing to make a digital negative.  Independent of your film and Photoshop work, you need to make sure to determine your base exposure time before you get too far and before we can create the digital negative on Pictorico OHP film.  You may want to read my article on the introduction of digital negatives, if you haven’t already read it.

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How to Determine Base Exposure for Analog Contact Prints

There are a variety of reasons why you would want to determine your base exposure time for your contact printing processes, so I will discuss a few of the most common in this article.  I’ve previously written about how to make proper proofs in the darkroom for black and white photographers. Base exposure is very similar to this process.  The main difference is instead of using the proper proof as a “proofing” tool to make adjustments in your exposure and development processes, the base exposure time gives you DMAX in your printing time and removes the guesswork out of making a perfect contact print.  If you want to make contact prints in the darkroom (silver gelatin, AZO, etc) or any number of historic/alternative prints such as salt, van dyke, cyanotype, platinum, palladium, and others, then you will absolutely want to nail down your base exposure time.

Determining base exposure must be done for each paper and printing process based off of your environment.  This means if you were using two different papers for salt printing, then you would need to do this exercise twice.  If you change work location, it is very likely that you will need to determine your base exposure again so keep that in mind if your results are no longer consistent.  Also, if you are using the sun as your UV source for one of the alternative processes then you will not likely be able to determine a consistent base exposure.  In this case I would suggest using a consistent UV light source.  I produced a video showing you how to make your own UV printer that you may want to review.  Your goal is to determine the shortest amount of time that it takes to create DMAX (maximum black) for your paper, chemical and environment variables.  By doing this you will be able to create consistently beautiful prints.

For example I do a lot of Palladium printing from my large format sheet film in addition to using digital negatives for the times when I want to make a print from my smaller 120 roll film negatives.  I had to determine base exposure for both of these printing methods because the film is different for each process.  If you used Tri-X and T-Max then you would also need to determine base exposure for each film.  I think you get the idea.

My recent Palladium Prints

[flickr-gallery mode="photoset" photoset="72157628177146469"]

Base exposure testing applies to all printing methods to include silver gelatin darkroom printing as well as hand coated alternative printing.

I have developed a 7 step process that outlines the required actions.  It is actually much easier to do then it is to read and type out the steps.

1 – For alternative prints tear a piece of watercolor paper approximately 5×7.  If you are making a silver gelatin darkroom print then just use an 8×10 piece of the paper you will be making your final prints on.  You will tear watercolor papers and cut darkroom papers.

Now tear or cut this piece into three equal strips for testing.  Make sure you tear and are not using scissors for watercolor paper, which can leave metal filings on your paper and produce undesirable effects on your alternative print.

Using a ruler and pencil measure and mark a three lines at the 25%, 50%, and 75% of length on your paper.  You are creating four blocks or testing zones for your exposure test.  If you are doing a darkroom base exposure test then you will not need to be tearing the paper of course.

2 – Based on your printing process you should have a general idea of the recommend exposure time.  For example, if you are making a Palladium print most textbooks state a 6 to 8 minute exposure is normal.  This may or may not be true for you based on your working conditions, but it at least gives you a general idea.

Based on this example I would expect to make 4 test exposures in 2 ½ minute increments (2 ½, 5, 7 ½, 10).  If you are making a silver gelatin print on fiber paper then your base exposure time will probably be significantly shorter.  A typical range for darkroom fiber papers like Ilford MGIV FB is somewhere between 10 and 20 seconds.  Simply do a little research for normal base exposure time for your specific printing process as a means to create the testing times.  For my darkroom papers I usually conduct 2 second test strips as a general rule.

3 – Either get a piece of the blank OHP Premium film that you will be using for your digital negatives or get a piece of traditional silver film for your darkroom prints.  If you use film at times and OHP for digital negatives as well then these are two different tests.

Your blank film creates a base (film base + fog) of your film material so that you can factor this into your exposure because the film acts as a diffuser.  If you are using regular film (e.g., Tri-X, T-Max, etc) then you will need to develop a blank sheet or roll via your normal development process first so that you can effectively get your film base + fog for this medium.  If you are doing digital negatives then just get a new piece of your Pictorico OHP film.

Now laying the film lengthwise over your test strip, cover up the top half of your paper.  You should have your print paper that is open on the top half and has a piece of clear film laying over the bottom half.

You will be able to see the paper DMAX as compared to the DMAX you will get with your film laying over your paper (factoring in your film base + fog).  As discussed in the final step, you will want to identify the test strip section (1, 2, 3 or 4) that matches your paper DMAX revealing your base exposure time and the purpose of this exercise.

4 – You will need a piece of 2 ply mat board or something similar to cover up and block light from your test strip.  You can use your contact printing frame, possibly a clip frame or even a piece of glass laying on your film and paper during the exposure tests.

Place your mat board over ¼ of your test strip and make the first exposure.  In effect you are covering ¾ of your test paper at this time.  Using my example in step 2, make a 2 ½ minute exposure in your UV printer.  Now slide your mat board down to expose ½ of your paper and make another 2 ½ minute exposure.  Next, slide the mat board down to expose ¾ of your paper and make another 2 ½ minute exposure.  Finally, remove the mat board and expose your paper for another 2 ½ minute interval.  You have created a test strip with 4 exposures in 2 ½ minute intervals. If you are doing silver gelatin darkroom prints your light source (i.e., enlarger, low-watt incandescent, etc) will be different and much shorter exposure times as previously mentioned.   The times and light source may change, but the process remains the same.

5 – Remove the paper and process it as if it were one of your fine prints.  This will vary based on your printing process.  Make sure you process this test strip in the exact same way you do your fine prints. Once that is completed, dry the print as you normally would and then evaluate the test print.

6 – Examine your test strip and look for the block where it is the same color as your uncovered area on the top of the test strip (DMAX).  This is your base exposure time!

If none of your test sections match the strip above then you need more exposure time.  Calculate a new test and follow steps 1 through 5 again.  If all of your squares are black then you need to shorten your test times and follow steps 1 through 5 again based on the shortened exposure times.

7Document the base exposure time for each printing process, paper, environment, and light source.  If any of these variables change then you need to do the base exposure test again.  Use this time when making your prints in the future and this time is also used for the creation of custom correction curves in the next section.


When making contact prints I use my base exposure time as the foundation of my printing process.  I know what kind of negative I need for each printing method so I make sure I use a lot of control in this area to ensure my contact printing time remains constant.  In my alternative printing processes, once I get my base exposure time I literally never have to worry about exposure again because it is right on the money for every single print.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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Exposure Considerations for Films

© Tim Layton Sr.I realized that I needed to write a new article about exposure considerations for different film types when talking to a young photographer the other day.  I will frame up how I think about exposures for negative films (color and black and white) and transparencies in hopes that this helps you.

I think most photographers struggle when working outside in the many different and ever-changing lighting conditions ranging from bright sun to nighttime.

When thinking about the dynamic range of the contrast of our scene, there is little to worry about, assuming you make the proper exposure.  Meaning that your film will handle the contrast of your scene, you just need to worry about yourself and your metering technique.  A little knowledge goes a long way to making great prints.  After readying and applying the techniques I have in this article you should be able to make beautiful prints from just about any lighting scene.

When working in the sun we worry about reflectance as it relates to our main subject (architecture, person, etc).  It can make things look very flat and unflattering.  A white object on a black background is about 4 to 5 stops, which is not a problem even for transparency.  The issue that gets people in trouble is when your subject is in strong light and you have other areas in deep shade, the potential reflectance back to your camera can be quite large and cause all sorts of bad results.  The other factor that you have to consider is the nature and angle of your lighting.  I encourage everyone, to include myself to study and understand light better to include the quality, color, and its behavioral characteristics.  A full working knowledge of lighting will go much farther in helping you create winning prints that a new camera could ever do.

If the sun is behind you this will produce a very low-contrast scene because all of the subjects because your scene is receiving the same light making your subject look very flat and unflattering.  When the light source (sun, etc.) is in front of the camera this creates a potentially nasty issue of narrow shadows.  When you have side lighting the shadows are much wider causing your meter to record the reflectance of your main subject AND the shadows.  Don’t fret, it will be okay!

Just know that there is about a three-stop difference between the sun and open shade.  Open shade is when direct sunlight is blocked, but the open sky is still available.  This was standard literature on film boxes.

In practice there are many times when there is less than a three-stop difference between the sun and open shade because the light is bouncing around.  The sun and clouds are very tricky, so you have to watch them and be aware. What if there are more clouds today versus yesterday?  You guessed it, white clouds bounce more light than no clouds at all.  This is when you start getting into trouble with transparency film because you are adding a couple more stops of light and pushing the outer limits of its ability to hold detail.

We know that meters work from the logic of middle grey (zone v).  If you have ever photographed snow or a woman in a white or black dress and it looks “grey” then you understand the problem perfectly.

You don’t need to worry about the technical details, just how to properly meter your scene and produce the tones and print that you want.

Transparency film is known to have a high middle disposition, in other words the proper exposure for the middle tone is not in the middle! It is actually on the higher side causing the age old problem of your middle values being to the right and then your highlights may be blown out.  This is why people are afraid of transparency film.  In general, transparency film has a reduced ability to record higher values than negative films, but are known for their shadows.  Digital cameras, at least the ones I have seen also tend to share the same challenge with transparency films.  On the up side if you have ever looked at a properly exposed chrome on a light table then you understand the quest.  I would rather look at my large format chromes on a light table than my best print.

I will give you a tip that I learned the hard way.  I came from a black and white negative film background so I metered my scenes for transparency in the same way.  Big mistake!  I always use my spot meter for negative films (I will discuss below) but for transparency I use my incident mode (little white dome).  Spot metering reads the reflected value off your subject in a very specific spot, no pun intended.  By using the incident mode on your meter you get the natural light falling onto your subject which yields a much more accurate reading for transparency film.  This is why I always use a hand-held meter for transparency film, even if the camera I am using has an internal meter.  The only exception is my Hasselblad prism also includes an incident meter in addition to two reflective modes.

If you insist on spot metering for transparency films, then meter for your highlights which is the direct opposite of negative film.  If you meter your white snow or the white fence on zone v (middle value) or maybe a little higher, you should be very close to a proper exposure.  I just use the incident mode and get accurate results about 99% of the time.

I avoid high contrast sunny scenes as a general rule with transparencies.  I absolutely avoid this scenario with Velvia 50 and even Velvia 100.  If you absolutely must use a transparency film in this scenario I would generally recommend Provia.

Since I am talking about transparency films, you should know if you are doing long exposures (sunrise/sunsets, etc) then you will likely have color shift issues with Velvia because of reciprocity failure.  Velvia 50 is the worst, with Velvia 100 being better and Provia being the best performer in this category.  With Velvia 50 you start getting reciprocity failure at 4 seconds and for Velvia 100 at 2 minutes.  Provia is even longer at 4 minutes.  You may want to read my article on selecting a Fuji transparency film for landscape photography.

You won’t end up with those jaw-dropping HDR looking colors of Velvia 50, but you will have a great chrome, almost all of the time.  I routinely rate my Velvia 50 at 32-40 and Velvia 100 at either 100 or 125.  If your scene is sunny with Velvia rate it near box value and if it is shady lower your EI to 32 for Velvia 50 or 100  for Velvia 100.  Just refer to the reciprocity charts at Fuji and be aware of this before cranking off a bunch of exposures on your once in a lifetime trip.

Negative films, either black and white or color C-41 are also “off center” but in the opposite direction of transparency films.  The shadows are more of a challenge for negative films and its ability to read into the higher values (bright areas).  I always use spot metering for negative films.

I spot meter the shadows of my scene where I still want detail in my print and then adjust for -2 stops.  I just dial in -2 stops on my exposure meter.  However, if you have a situation where you main subject is white, like snow, then I would typically dial in +1 to +2 stops of exposure come placing the snow on zone vii or so.  It also depends on the sun and clouds so that is why some people bracket to make sure they get the shot.

For black and white film, and in particular with larger formats (120 and sheet film) I tend to expose a little more than the meter says for the best tonality.  For 35mm, I do just the opposite to cut down on grain and enlargement challenges.  As I have mentioned in other articles, If you have not conducted densitometer tests of your films and process then just rate your Tri-X at about half the box speed (EI 200) and develop a little less than the manufacturer suggestion and you just saved yourself many hours of testing and will get the bulk of the benefit from the testing process.  Feel free to send donations to my PayPal account at any time!  Just remember with Tri-X or any black and white film (120 or sheet film) don’t underexpose or develop too long and all should be good.  By doing this, and metering as I suggested (-2 stops for shadow detail) you will get adequate shadow details and also get up to about 4 stops above middle for your highlights resulting in a very long tonal scale and those beautiful prints that we all want.  This logic also applies to color negative films as well.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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Black and White Film Processing Considerations

I decided to write this article because of the variables and choices that come into play after you have learned the basics of developing your own black and white film.  The general process for developing black and white film is to use a developer, stop bath, fixer and wash.  Now that you have decided to upgrade your photography to film it is a good idea to give yourself as many options as possible.

In practice, depending on your film and choice of chemicals for development it is a little more involved.  It may also depend on what you have available to you at the time of development.  My process in the lab is a systematic and consistent approach that does not vary.  However, when traveling on road trips my options at time may be limited or have to be altered based on the circumstances.


My primary black and white film is Tri-X.  When working in the lab I develop the film in XTOL at 1:1 for very sharp negatives when exposed at EI 200 or EI 400.  For push processing at EI 800/1600/3200 I use stock D-76.  When on the road I can’t carry and mix up XTOL or D-76 very easily so I develop using HC-110 dilution B from the syrup.  I decant ½ ounces in small glass bottles to mix with 15 ½ ounces of distilled water to develop one roll of 120 in a 16 oz steel tank.  My preference is XTOL for sharp and low grain negatives and D-76 stock for push processing.  I only use HC110-B on Tri-X when traveling because it is the only viable option that I have selected to use.  Just to be clear HC110-B is my standard for Tri-X large format sheet film.  If anyone can tell me the logic behind this approach you are no longer a grasshopper in training!

I use all my developers with distilled water and as a one-shot process.  I suggest the same to ensure consistency in your process.

Stop Bath

I have gone to a running water stop bath whether I am in the lab or on the road.

The approach for tank development:

1. Pour the developer out of the tank and drain

2. Refill the tank with tap water and agitate for ten seconds, then pour out the water

3. Repeat the sequence five full cycles before moving onto your fixer

If you prefer to use a stop bath then there are several options for making your own stop bath if that is what you want to do or just purchase one if that option is available to you.  I personally went to the water stop bath to keep my process as simple and consistent as possible when I am on the road or in the lab.

Glacial Acetic Acid (liquid)

Using glacial acetic acid is a little more dangerous than the other two options so be careful if you use this method.  Always wear gloves, eye protection and a mask.

Glacial comes in 99% strength so you will need to dilute to 28% first.  Mix 3 parts glacial acetic acid to 8 parts water to make the 28% dilution.

To make 1 liter of stop bath mix the following:

  • Water at room temperature – 750ml
  • Acetic Acid (28% solution) – 48ml

Citric Acid (powder)

Use 750ml of water with 15 grams of citric acid and then add the remaining water to make 1 liter

Use this as one-shot

Vinegar (household cooking brand)

Find cheapest vinegar possible at grocery store.  Heinz white vinegar is perfect

Mix 1 parts vinegar with 4 parts water

Use this as one-shot

Testing Life of Stop Bath

The stop bath is acidic and should not feel greasy.  Put two fingers in the stop bath and rub together.  If it feels greasy then your stop bath is exhausted.

Determining Clearing & Fixing Time of Film

Before moving on to the fixer it is important that you determine your clearing time and ultimately your washing time.  If your Tri-X has a pink cast to it after it dries, then you are not properly clearing your film.  This is not a huge issue, however it adds to your film base + fog density and if you start clearing your film properly then your readings and process could be wrong and cause inconsistencies in your processes.  Just clear it properly from the start and worry about making beautiful fine prints.

With the lights on, use a strip length equal to about 3 frames or sheet of film (Tri-X).  Just unwind a new roll and cut the film to length.  Enjoy it because you never get to do this stuff with the lights on!

Place your film in fresh fixer and with gentle agitation time how long it takes the film to become completely transparent, or clear. Just set your timer and daydream or listen to some music for a few minutes while you are doing this.  This is the clearing time for your film and developer combination.

Multiply the clearing time by 3 or 4 for your total fixing time. A general rule is to use 3 for rapid fixers and 4 for regular fixer.


You will need to fix your film before it is light safe and remove the residual silver.  You can use a rapid fixer or a traditional fixer as mentioned above.  Rapid fixers generally work in about 3 to 4 minutes and traditional fixers such as Kodak fixer is much longer like 5 to 10 minutes.

Remember the fixing time is determined by clearing time test not by what the manufacturer says on the label of their product.

Before selecting a fixer you should consider your needs.  Most of the time I develop in the lab and use a rapid fixer but when I travel I am not able to take liquids on the airplane so I use a traditional fixer (Kodak) that comes in dry powder form.  The choice of fixer along with your clearing time test results determines how long to fix your film.

I do constant agitation during my fixing process and I suggest the same for you.  I reuse my fixer for up to a few weeks, but it may be less depending on the volume of my work.

Hypo Clearing Agent

I use the Kodak hypo clearing agent with my Tri-X because I am using an acid based fixer.  If you are not using an acid-based fixer then you don’t need to use the hypo clearing agent.

After fixing the film I remove the tank lid and wash in running tap water for 2 minutes.  I normally fill up the tank, dump, refill, and dump again for the 2 minute cycle.

After the rinse I pour in the hypo clearing agent and continuously agitate for 4 minutes.

Washing Time

Film should be washed in a running water bath.  Films fixed with an acid fixer followed by a one-minute hypo clearing bath should be washed for 10 to 20 minutes.  If your film is pink and not properly cleared, you should redo the clearing test and check your wash time.  I would error on the side of longer washing times if you have that option.

Film fixed in an alkaline fixer does not need a hypo clearing bath and only needs to be washed for 5 to 10 minutes.

Wetting Agent

If you want to protect your film for as long as you possibly can then move to the archival processing section now, otherwise use a working solution of a wetting agent like Kodak Photoflo.  Simply immerse your film for 1 minute and then hang to dry.

Archival Processing of Film

To ensure a long and healthy life of your negatives I recommend the process of using Kodak Selenium toner.  You need to be careful here and follow the dilution ratio very closely because Selenium toner can actually be used to increase the contrast of your exposure by one full stop.  I actually do this at times when I missed my exposure/development time.  It is a nice trick to have in your bag.  I typically apply this logic to sheet film when using the zone system, but you can do this on a single frame of 120 or even 35mm if you want to cut your negatives.

You can use Kodak Selenium Toner after your final wash, or the film can be rewet at a later date after it has dried.

Once the film is wet, tone it for three minutes in a 1:29 solution at 68F or 20C, with frequent agitation. You could put your film back on the reel and use your development tank or if it is a single frame, just use a tray.

Wash film for 30 minutes after toning because Selenium toner contains thiosulfate.

Then immerse your film for one minute in working solution wetting agent  (Photoflo) and then hang your film to dry.

Now you can head to the darkroom and make some prints or scan your negatives for your digital darkroom or make a contact print.  Either way, just enjoy it and have some fun.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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Video: How to Convert Large Format Sheet Film Holders for 19th Century Dry Plate Photography

In this 17 minute video I walk you through how to convert a Riteway large format sheet film holder for dry plate or wet plate photography.  I went on this journey because I started exploring dry plate photography and hit a brick wall when trying to find holders for the glass plates that would fit my field cameras.  I made several orders from e-bay with none of them working for any of my large format field cameras.  I am sure there are some out there, but I wasn’t able to find any during my search period. I should also mention that I am using modern day large format field cameras with Graflok backs on them.

The modification that I present in this video is not an elegant solution by any means, but it will allow you to use dry plates with Riteway sheet film holders.


In order for this modification to work you will need to use a Riteway sheet film holder and 1/16th thick glass.  Other holders may work, but I cannot verify that to be the case.  I specifically choose to go with the Riteway holders because the septum (center piece between the dark slides) is metal as opposed to plastic.  This is more rigid and I felt it was a better long term piece of material to work with.  Also, the Riteway holders have a metal rail that the sheet film slides under that I slightly modify to provide better support for the glass plate.

I went round and round looking for clear plate glass of different thicknesses.  For this specific modification to work perfectly you will need 1/16th glass.  I found the best supply available from Hobby Lobby craft stores.  Look for their Quick Frames near the custom framing department or you can order online.  They run a 50% off sale on these almost every week. You can get an 8×10 for $2 or a 16×20 for $5.  If you are making 4×5 plates then this is very reasonable as compared to sheet film pricing.

Pros and Cons to the Modification

From my perspective there are some pros and cons with this modification and I wanted to share my thoughts with you for your consideration.


  • Allows you to start working with dry plates when you otherwise might not be able to without locating a historic dry plate holder that will fit your camera.
  • You can use this holder in the mean time until you find a proper dry plate holder for your camera.  The biggest challenge is in getting the emulsion down on the glass plate properly and there is no replacement for experience.
  • You may be perfectly happy with the modified holder and have solved your problem.
  • You could technically use the design I present for wet plates too.
  • The modification process is straight forward and does not require special parts.


  • The process is time consuming and requires tools and mechanical ability.
  • You modify the two sheet film holder for only one glass plate.
  • Because of the mask required to hold the glass plate in place you loose that border area around your image.  In my case it was 1/4″ all the way around the plate.
  • You may have to purchase tools to do the modification.
  • If you are not careful you could ruin your sheet film holder.



My hope is that I have provided information that is useful to you and hopefully has saved you a lot of time and frustration that I unfortunately had to work my way through.  I have been on the other side of it and it is always nice to find information that is helpful.

In the coming weeks I will continue writing about a variety of historic photography processes and techniques such as salt printing, albumen, dry plates, etc.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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Understanding Human Eye Sight & Composition

eyeUnderstanding how the human eye sees is a huge clue that every photographer should understand and leverage to their advantage.  Before I continue with the rest of the article I will walk you through a simple exercise that should make everything perfectly clear for you, no pun intended.

Hold out your right hand in front of you with your arm fully extended.  Position your hand as if you were going to signal someone to stop.  Your fingers should be slightly spread apart and you should be looking at the back of your hand.  Now look at your thumb.  It should be in perfect focus.  Here is the tricky part.  All the rest of your fingers are not in sharp focus!  Don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with your vision.  This is how every human eye works.

My guess would be about f/4 or maybe f/2.8 if I could place an aperture value on what your fingers look like in relation to the one in sharp focus.  Now move your eye to focus on your index finger.  Did you notice your thumb is out of focus now?  How about your other fingers?  Yes, they are out of focus too!  You eye views a scene in small little chunks and the fantasy of seeing an huge vista all at once is physiologically not possible.  Your eye puts all the pieces of the scene together to form a complete picture at a very rapid pace.

As noted by this simple exercise the angle of sharp vision of the human eye is very small.  Your eye randomly darts around to view the complete scene picking out bits and pieces at lightening fast speeds.  Your brain processes all the information and pieces it together for you.  When you eye is scanning the scene it stops on prominent objects and sees those sharply just like your thumb in the exercise above.

Think about all of this and how this information relates to your photography.  Are you composing your scenes to leverage this information?  Are you directing your viewers attention in a planned manner?  You should have your viewers see the first elements that you have specifically designed them to see most prominently and also remember the longest.  Good composition will lead a viewer through a scene in a controlled manner.  In short, composition is your way as a photographer and artist to reveal the scene to your viewer in a controlled fashion based on your artistic vision.

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Tim Layton
Analog Film Photography Blog

All text and images copyright © Tim Layton Sr. 1983 – 2014

How to Make Proper Proofs in the Darkroom

If you are a traditional black and white photographer then you absolutely must determine your personal EI (exposure index) rating for your film and the SCT (standard contact printing time) which effectively produces your Proper Proof.  I am not certain but I think Fred Picker actually coined the phrase so hats off to Fred and I hope he is resting in peace. Fred passed away on April 3, 2002 at the age of 75.

In this article I will provide the background of why the Proper Proof is important and why you should test and establish your SCT for your specific environment (i.e., film, developer and paper combinations).  In the photo above I am in the process of establishing SCT for different papers.  I only use two papers but I use them in RC and in Fiber making a total of four papers.  For my fine art prints I only use fiber paper and for personal use or non-archival work I use RC paper.

There are actually several components that ultimately all fit together to enable a film based black and white photographer produce the highest quality negatives and ultimately fine prints.  In this article I will walk you through how to determine your SCT so that you can produce a Proper Proof and then ultimately use the proper proof to confirm your metering and exposures as well as your development.

However, before you can effectively use a Proper Proof you must first determine your personal EI rating for each film, developer and paper combination.  Now you can see why professional black and white photographers only use very few films, developers and paper combinations. Famous photographers over time have used a single film and developer to produce some of the most notable photographs in history.  They were able to truly master their medium by focusing and narrowing the variables.  I think there is a lesson in this that we should all pay attention to.  After establishing your SCT and personal EI rating then I will walk you through how to determine your normal, expanded and contracted development times to control contrast.

Why Make a Proper Proof?

First, let me define what a Proper Proof is and then the rest will fall into place.  A Proper Proof is a contact print that is made using your negative and paper combination based on your SCT (standard contact printing time).  Before I dive into the advantages and reasons behind making Proper Proof’s let me tell you how to make one and then I will walk you through how to use it to make adjustments in your process (exposures, development times, etc).  Briefly your Proper Proof is the best friend you can have as a black and white photographer.  It reveals any flaws in your process and gives you perfect feedback of how to make adjustments and correct any issues.

How to Determine your SCT

Before figuring out your SCT you need to develop a blank piece of film using your standard process which includes your target developer, stop bath and fixer, washing, etc. If you want to review my standard process for black and white film development you can do that now before moving forward.

For large format photographers this is a simple process because you just take a blank piece of film from the box and develop it using your standard process.  For roll film users (120 or 35mm) you need to load your film in your camera, keep your lens cap on and expose the entire roll before unloading into your tank and following your standard development process.  A word of caution here.  Make sure you are using a well-documented process that you can repeat every time.  Pay close attention to your temperature control, your agitation technique, etc. I only use distilled water in my developer so that if I ever have to develop film in another location my water is the same.

After your blank piece of film dries you now have a piece of film that is effectively your film base + fog.  In simple terms your film will allow a specific amount of light to pass through it and this is unique for each of us based on our local variables.  If you had a densitometer you could measure your film base + fog, but we are going to do that visually.

How to Make the Proper Proof

Now proceed to your darkroom and setup your enlarger for making a contact print.  I picked up an old Beseler 67C for $25 that I use as my contact and proper proof printing station.  I rack the head all the way up so I never have to worry about changing the intensity of the light source.  Next I put in my #2 variable contrast filter for large format sheet film and 120 roll film.  If you are a 35mm user then you need to use a #3 filter.  I personally use a 75mm lens and set it to f/11.  These variables should never change once you get setup.  You don’t have to use my exact setup, but whatever you decide make sure you document it and keep it the same.  In theory you could use a low watt house bulb if you could control the height and light distribution.

To make my negative lay flat against my paper I had a local glass company make me a piece of 3/8″ plate glass and polish the edges.  I had them cut it to 11″ by 14″ so I would have plenty of overlap for an 8×10 or 8 1/2 x 11 print.  For my base I have a piece of smooth rubber mat that I picked up from Home Depot.  You are simply going to lay down your paper with the emulsion side up, then your negative with your emulsion side down and then your glass on top of the stack to make the contact print. Your emulsion side on your negative is the dull side and on your paper it should feel slick. Don’t forget to assemble your contact print sandwich under an approved darkroom light for your paper type.

Next, make 3 second interval exposures across your contact print.  You are shooting for a SCT time between 12 and 30 seconds.  I use 4×5 or 8×10 sheet film so when I do 8×10 sheet film I just use an 8×10 piece of paper.  When I test 4×5 film I cut an 8×10 piece of paper into half on each side and make 4 4×5 sheets of paper. For roll film users you can cut a strip of 8×10 paper long wise that is at least as wide as your film.

I use an old white mat board as my masking tool.  Either using your enlarger timer or a metronome to work your way across the print in standard sized increments.  For 4×5 sheet film I do about 1/4″ increments.  You can figure out what you need to do in your own environment.  Next, develop the print with your standard printing process.  For RC papers develop at least 60 seconds and for fiber papers at least 90 seconds, but I recommend 2 minutes.  Then 30 seconds in the stop bath and at least 30 seconds in the fixer before turning on the lights.

You are looking for that transition from grey to maximum black (DMAX) between 12 and 30 seconds.  Anything short then 12 seconds is too short and longer than 25 or 30 seconds you probably need to adjust your lens aperture and test again to reduce the time.  The transition from grey to DMAX is your standard contact printing time (SCT).  If you are using RC paper then let it dry for a few minutes or even use a hair dryer to help things along.  If you are using fiber paper you need to wait for the dry-down effect or if you are a little crazy you could microwave your print for 15 or 20 seconds and check it and maybe a few seconds more depending on your paper and microwave.  Otherwise I let me fiber prints dry over night.  The key point is to evaluate the contact print when it is dry and under bright lighting.  You are looking for that last transition from grey to maximum black (DMAX) and then you have your SCT established.

Okay, you thought you were done.  Well, almost.  I am a stickler for details so I highly recommend that you verify your SCT.  It is absolutely critical that you are using the proper SCT.  Don’t rush this step or minimize the importance of it.  The best way to do this is to make another contact print and cover half of your paper with your mat board.  Expose it for 2 seconds less than your SCT.  Then just flip your mat board over and expose the other half for your SCT.  You should see a very slight difference between your underexposed half.  If not, then your SCT is wrong and you need to make an adjustment.  If you don’t see any difference then your SCT was too long and you need to shorten it.  Once you have successfully verified your SCT then it is time to move to the next step of determining your personal EI rating for your film and developer combination.

How to Use Your Proper Proof

In the real world we are making a proper proof to evaluate your negatives and development process.  When you have everything working together as a single unit the Proper Proof is one of your most powerful tools as a photographer.  If you have a couple different exposures of a scene it can literally tell you which negative to print.  Since your development process controls range of contrast and your exposure controls density you need to have them both correct.  After you have established your SCT then when you make a Proper Proof with your negative it should look very good.  If the print is too dark, too light, too much contrast, etc then you have a problem and your Proper Proof is your teacher.  I have listed the most common problems for your consideration.

  • If your photograph is too dark then your film was either underdeveloped and/or it was underexposed.  In either case you need to get to the bottom of the problem and fix it for the future. I lean towards underexposure for this problem and this is why having your own personal EI rating is critical.  Worse case scenario if you don’t have a personal EI then rate the film at half the box speed until you can properly test.  You are effectively giving your film an extra stop of exposure by doing this.  Don’t be surprised if your personal EI rating is a little less than half to get good shadow detail and overall exposure.
  • If your photograph is too light then you have the opposite problem.  Either your film was overdeveloped and/or overexposed
  • Notice that I used “and/or” because you could have both problems.
  • If you have too much contrast then you probably overdeveloped.  Meaning your developed for too long and if you understand how film is developed your highlights will continue to develop with more time and your shadows level out earlier in the process.
  • If your photo seems flat to you then you overdeveloped.

No one makes perfect negatives so don’t get discouraged if your Proper Proofs are not always “perfect”.  I have printed many negatives that were not optimal, it is just a lot more work to make a print.

Many people are concerned that by adding the extra exposure they are going to blow out their highlights.  That simply won’t happen if you are developing your film properly.

If you are doing everything right then you should end up with a negative that has strong shadow detail, printable highlights and the middle tones have good exposure too.

Ideally, you want a negative that has strong shadow detail, printable highlights, and good overall exposure in the middle tones.

What’s Next?

In the next article we will take our SCT time that we established in this article and expose some films to determine our personal EI rating.  Then we will move on to validating our zones and then figuring out our development times.  Stay tuned and be sure to comment at the bottom of the article if you enjoy this series.  For other darkroom related articles refer to “Tim’s Darkroom Corner” section at the top right corner of the site.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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